The Healthcare industry is in the midst of a huge transformation as consumers take more control of their healthcare decisions.  With that, comes the need for the same level of customer service one would expect at a retailer.  The Health Insurance industry in one in which increase price does not necessarily correlate with better quality, however, some players in the industry are addressing this gap and making significant changes.  If carriers wish to compete in this new market, they will need to implement strategies that place the customer at the heart of everything that they do.  


When Stacey Lane was eight years old, she was diagnosed with familial hypercholesterolemia (FH), a genetic disorder that leads to premature cardiovascular disease. The diagnosis meant that the young Lane — who lost her father to a heart attack when she was just six years old – was in for a lifetime of aggressive and expensive medical treatment if she wanted to avoid the disorder causing her a premature stroke or heart failure.

This story has a happy, albeit frustrating, ending: Lane is now in her 50s and on the board of an advocacy group for patients with FH. As Lane has aged, advancements in cholesterol drugs have given her increasingly effective ways to manage her disease — though, as she told a room full of top healthcare executives at the FORBES Healthcare Summit Thursday, getting access to these drugs has been the opposite of effective.

“One of the providers was requiring genetic testing. I myself took 23 phone calls to get approved for this drug,” Lane said of her experience with one of these drugs. “How do you explain the dichotomy in great need versus barrier to access?”

In the midst of head-turning appearances by pharma-villain Martin Shkreli and beleaguered Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes, the FORBES Healthcare Summit sought to address this and other simple — but crucial — questions about providing better patients with better service at better costs. As anyone who follows this $3 trillion industry might expect, there were no easy answers — but there was also no shortage of ideas.

Dr. David Feinberg, the president and CEO of Geisinger Health System who made headlines when his company announced a money-back guarantee for patients who are dissatisfied with their experience, suggested that the answers to healthcare’s greatest issues will not come from within, but rather, other industries.

“People say it’s innovative, but I say it’s not Starbucks SBUX -3.39% or Nordstrom JWN +1.75%,” Feinberg said of the money-back program. “Could you go into Starbucks, order a latte, sip it, think it’s not made right because you wanted soy milk, then say to the barista, ‘I think you need to make it right,’ and the barista sips it and says, ‘no, we’ve made it right, and you have to drink it?’” That, he said, is what currently happens when someone interacts with the healthcare system. And that is what will have to change in the future.

“I mean if you look at it, we’re just about as good as the DMV,” Feinberg said. “We have to get to a different level.”

Martin Silverstein, the executive vice president of insurance giant Anthem, agreed. “The benchmark for our customers is not the next insurance company; the benchmark is their shopping experience at Amazon, the customer service experience at Zappos,” he said. “That’s what they expect of us.”

Silverstein noted that changes to the system have to go beyond the money-back guarantee that Feinberg is pioneering. Consumers, he said, are telling Anthem that they’re not happy — and their malaise starts before they even see a doctor, much less pay for one.

“Consumers want two things: they want confidence that they bought the right health plan, and they want clarity,” Silverstein said. “They want clarity on the benefits they’re going to get [from an insurance plan] and clarity on how much it’s going to cost. When they go to the doctor, is they don’t know what it’s going to cost them, and it scares the dickens out of them. So we as a system need to answer that.”

If healthcare players don’t come up with the answers themselves, Feinberg cautioned, someone else will. To illustrate his point, he referenced two cautionary tales of staying relevant in the age of consumer-driven economics.

“What was the discussion at Kodak when they talked about digital? What was the discussion at Blockbuster when they could have bought Netflix but didn’t? I think it’s the exact same in healthcare,” he said. “Somebody is going to figure out a way to make this more consumer driven.”

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